Wednesday, November 19, 2008

graduation time

Following the natural course of seasons, the academic year in Korea begins in the spring and ends in the winter As the academic year comes to an end it is not only getting very cold outside, but it is time to finish up the processes of the semester.

On November 15th, several BA and one MA student presented their graduation pieces. I got to guide three of those who passed the audition of their final pieces to be completed and performed:
Hyang-Chun Kim made a duet about leaning and by extension socially motivated support, which told a story of two women-characters, mixing at times subtle, another times very direct domination and inter-dependence.
Hye-Jin Shin made a trio of pure movement arranged in many variations in space to the clicks of a metronome, including movements from contact improvisation as well as derived from classical ballet.
Jeong-Yeon Kim, who also assisted both Kazue Ikeda and me many times with her excellent English translation skills created a 21st century intermedia version of the late-Romantic ballet "Spectre de la Rose", complemented with video by Hyo-Jeong Jang and haunting music by Jeong-Hyeong Paek.
With all of the difficulties that usually go together with the making of student work, I was happy about each choreographer's individual interests and their drive to realize it as much as possible.
As before, Professor Jeong-Ho Nam mediated where necessary and filled in gaps that were left open by cultural differences and by the fact taht this was my first time to guide student work as a staff-teacher.

Finally I would like to specially mention the graduation piece of Heung-Gyun Go:
a quartet for three men and one woman dressed in office-like uniforms (white shirts with ties, black pants / short skirt for the woman, bare feet)
The dance was performed with a very mature blend of dance-technical precision and acting skills. There was no music other than sounds made by the dancers. Through simple permutations and combinations of the same dance material such as vertically lifting each other, walking, ts-ts-ts-ts-ts-ts sounds, forced laughter and "Love me" cried out by the female dancer, exaggeratedly cute kisses performed by the male dancers, the choreographer told a non-linear story that hinted at high-school or office romance, unhindered by gender barriers, which is still largely a taboo in Korea.

I am happy to know that next to the many mainstream-oriented pieces of that evening, which made up about 50% or more of the presented material, there is still space left for these very individual young emerging choreographers who are not afraid to follow their own path of creativity. Obviously the Department of Choreography, since it was established 13 years ago, still manages to bring out such artists, even in the face of cultural conservativism which demands to be entertained and confirmed, rather than made to co-think and move/ dance together with the artist/s ...

While I was here in Korea, it has been my pleasure to meet many artists who have been driven to the fringe temporarily. With the Seoul Fringe Festival and Mullae Festival there are now some funded spaces that are available for them. There are producers for young talent like Ji-Yun Jeong / Jung Art Vision / Young Artists Club. In fact there is an enormous number of contemporary dance groups in Seoul that get to play in various kinds of medium and small theaters. However like many places elsewhere, there are rules of majority-taste and conformity.

Some people like Sin-Cha Hong have found wider acceptance later, by emigrating with their work to another country before returning. Jeong Yeong-Du is ready to bring his works abroad, with help from the Korean government. Seung-Hee Yang, has found a way to combine his new kind of work with teaching at several universities.

At KNUA (ex)-students like Jeong-Hyeon Kim /Improad Badak Co., Han-Sol Yu, Ok-Kwang Cheong, Hyeon-Ju Park, and many others, are working hard on their paths to make it happen. They and many others work in and out of school regulations about what makes acceptable work. They question the necessity of having to produce directly understandable work for their audiences, but instead they follow their passionate interests as best as they can. I found that each of these artists is making very exciting work, but many have risked or experienced major rejection by a decision-making group of people in the past.

It is to be hoped that censorship, whether because of govermenent regulations or personal taste, will not succeed in hindering enough dance artists to express the state of NOW in their work, whether it is more widely understood or will need more time.

Professor Nam once said something very beautiful when we were talking about the difficulty of making authentic work. She said that the demands of dedicating oneself to working for art deterred her: it is so much more tempting to remain comfortable, and to a degree also widely acceptable (especially in a middle-class oriented consensus-society) rather than spending all the necessary time and energy on creating one's work and not hold back, either by convention or personal character or fear.

Perhaps this is a good moment to mention Mary O'Donnell's wonderful short text about fear in her Online / E-book "Release": fear can be an indicator that certainties are about to change, that a new experience could demand new strategies. In such cases it is a matter of personal responsibility of whether one follows the advice of fear and hopes for safe survival, or is ready to give in to the unknown and proceed further, risking survival, essentially. The dangers are real...

I believe that for each of us and society as a whole, this issue of censorship brings us to a very similar point each time anybody confronts us with something so new - it either passes right by our senses and we don't even realise that something important is there with us, or we start to feel that our habitual patterns could be challenged by a work of art that is new for us.

Friday, November 7, 2008

teaching Kinetic Awareness® at the Korean National University of Arts

Every Friday evening from 5 to 7pm I have taught a number of Kinetic Awareness® classes as technique classes for the 4th years BA students Choreography, at the Korean National University of Arts in Seoul, South Korea.
The classes came after I did a class on working with joints and one on navel-radiation (as used in Developmental Movement / Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's BodyMind Centering®

I realized that the students were ready to work in-depth on the experience of their own body in movement, with the slow, concentrated way that is so characteristic for especially the beginning phases of Kinetic Awareness®

The major obstacle was not so much the general use of imitation as a means of instruction in Korean teaching culture, but the language barrier: every time I would say something that was meant to be an additional element, the students would immediately stop anything they were doing and direct their full attention back to me, only to have to wait for the translating volunteer student to tell them in Korean what I wanted and then sort of going back into that very sensitive state... to varying degrees of success, obviously.

So guiding from the side has not really been possible and I've had to try and find the most ideal timing and phrasing of giving enough verbal information to the students so that they could continue to work on a given topic on their own, not saying anything else in the class, but rather- if necessary- going to a student and trying to say a few simple words and often mimic and demonstrate in movement what I tried to tell them. Energy communication is crucial in this, I am quite careful about my movement and emotional tension, because the words themselves carry no meaning for either one of us.

Eventually imitation proved to be a major potential kind of instruction: once I'd shown a taste of what I do when I am moving very very slowly on a ball, the students did get the idea and could independently continue to go further on their own.

Today has been another one of those very fruitful and rich sessions.
By now, the students can work independently on a body part of their own decision and know how to use one or several balls. They are no longer imitative in the sense that they look to me for every single answer, but they perhaps ask a question when they want to be absolutely sure, which happens rarely, because all of them are very able to sink very well into a deeper level of sensory awareness. They are also able to indicate what kind of ball they would like to try, change balls if they do not feel comfortable and otherwise have become very nicely independent.
And finally they have become comfortable telling each other about what they have experienced in the session at the end of the class.

This time we were three students and myself: the main indicated topic was shoulder, unless another body part would demand the most attention. The students were very able to take their explorations deeper and deeper, changing ball-positions to find out how exactly a certain ache or stiffness was constructed. One student came into a fully 3-dimensional dance at the final phase, another had his shoulders finally drop and fell asleep for quite a while to get used to this new state, the third student found an unusual freedom in her jaw.

Everybody could by now appreciate the feedback of the other. Before, it was very difficult to even get them back into the studio with their awareness, they all preferred to stay inward and only reluctantly re-connected with the outside world.

The other major tool that I used was repetition of a known structure, which as I have been informed by my wonderful Professor Nam, is a key feature of Asian teaching: one single form to still the mind, so that the sensory differences and (partly unconscious) learning processes can happen. By now the students know what the different phases of a class can be:
I do a scanning, the three breaths (fat, skinny, invisible), exploration of a body part, ball-work with that body-art, re-integration of the body-part with the entire body(mind), and some voice-verbal exchange of experiences.

It is very heartening to be allowed to experience this ongoing process of continued awakening and development every week and I hope to continue this exploration with them until I leave December 13th.

Yang Seung-Hee / Contact Improvisation: space & body together

While teaching I've been following Prof. Seung-Hee Yang's Contact Improvisation Class at the Korean National University of Arts (KNUA) for a while now.
(For those who do not know: it was from his suggestion that I got invited to teach here)

His class is very interesting for me: he adapted this kind of dance to traditional Asian teaching methods and movements. We follow a set sequence of specified movement tasks, mainly in pairs, echoing traditional East-Asian partnering stretches, but here they are tasks for warming up our bodies and minds and establishing contact with each other. From these stretching exercises we continue to different kinds of taking weight and lifting each other, following an inherent logic. Finally we end with more open forms of improvisation, at times changing partners.

This class is repeated over a long period of weeks (compare to the traditional method of teaching Tai Chi Chuan) Judging from the frequency with which I see these movements re-appear in dance pieces here in Seoul, it obviously impresses the students, not just at KNUA but across the universities where he is teaching, just like I think it should... ;-)

As the months progressed Seung-hee started to change this form to match the higher level of experience of the students and he began to introduce more layers, such as being in touch by sensitive energy and emotions, rather than direct skin touch or acrobatics.

Last week he did something extraordinary:
from a warm-up of contact with each other back-to-back, he guided us into ever greater amounts of contact-space that we create between us. Eventually we were on our own with the studio and each other.

The results were phenomenal.
Everybody including myself moved with extraordinary ease and connectedness / alignment. All the movements really made sense.

It was the solution to a problem I see in dance very often: the logic of the moving body is too often broken down by dysfunctional mental forms and anatomically incorrect or superficial patterns.

Here, with Seung-Hee Yang, body-movement and space became one. Form and movement and body came to match each other extremely closely from the very first beginning.

It was clear that we needed the longer part of careful preparations by repeating the same sometimes rather advanced movement patters, to build up enough internalised knowledge for this revelation.

In my own work "available tension / sensitive energy" I have been looking for a similar physical state for years.

I am very happy to have experienced it here with Seung-Hee.

감사 합니다 (Kamsa hamnida) !! ^^